Eddie Yeadon was a lovely chap, a great pal, and devoted to the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum. He was a co-founder of the Flamsteed Astronomy Society – along with Jane Bendall – and he was our first Chairman.
Eddie and Jane founded the Flamsteed in 1999. As founding Chairman, he was the driving force behind the solar viewings and presentation of the first hydrogen-alpha solar viewing telescope to the ROG. He organised the fantastic event to view the 2004 Transit of Venus from the grounds of the Observatory. He developed the ROG volunteer tour guides team and drafted the tour script we were still using right up until lockdown. In addition to the tours and astronomy programmes, Eddie also volunteered his time to help the Museum in Horology and Ship’s Plans. There wasn’t much he didn’t know about the history of the ROG, horology, or general maritime events and lore.
In 2002 he was the driving force in organising the Flamsteed to donate a hydrogen-alpha telescope to the Royal Observatory to use for viewing the Sun. (Never look at the Sun directly or through a telescope except with special filters!) An H-alpha telescope filters out all the wavelengths (or colours) of light except for one very particular colour emitted by hot ionised hydrogen gas. That enables us to see features on the Sun’s surface such as prominences and sunspots. The great thing for the Flamsteed is that you can do this in daytime. Eddie presented the telescope to the then Director of the NMM, Admiral Roy Clare, in the presence of members of the Flamsteed.
Eddie was never happier than when busy developing instructions and guidelines for how to use the telescope and arranging training. He loved working on solar viewing sessions when visitors could queue to look through the telescope. He enjoyed chatting with visitors, explaining what they could see and telling them about the Sun. He always wanted to share his knowledge and would try to answer any question.
He started the ball rolling and so today the solar viewings have continued to be as popular as ever both with visitors and with the Flamsteed members who volunteer to run them.
The Transit of Venus
The 2004 transit of Venus was a huge event at the Observatory and one of Eddie’s great triumphs for the Flamsteed! A ‘Transit of Venus’ occurs when the planet passes between the Earth and the Sun and can be seen in silhouette as a small dot crawling slowly across the face of the Sun (only viewed with special filters, of course!). The event takes several hours but only happens every 120 years or so, in pairs 8 years apart, so there were transits in 2004 and 2012 but the next will not be until 2117 and 2125.
If you’re lucky, it really is a ‘twice in a lifetime’ phenomenon (weather-permitting, naturally) – so we had to be ready for it. The 2004 event was in magnificent June weather and was visible all day starting in the morning. Eddie took charge of organising the Flamsteed team to host the event and set up the special telescopes, etc. He spent hours researching the science and history of the Transit so he could explain it all to the team.
The event was fantastic! Hundreds, maybe thousands, came to the ROG and queued to look through the telescopes and borrow special glasses to see it. We worked all day. It was great fun! Eddie explained everything to the team and briefed us on our duties, then supervised telescopes on the day. Also, he had his ’15 minutes of fame’ when he was interviewed for TV by Adam Hart-Davis. I think, from a Flamsteed viewpoint, this was Eddie’s finest hour!
The ‘New ROG’
In 2005 the Society made a significant donation to the Museum’s ‘Time & Space’ appeal to raise funds to redevelop the Observatory into the site we enjoy today. The redevelopment included conversion of the South Building with new astronomy galleries and the Endeavour seminar room, and the building of the Peter Harrison Planetarium. In the photo Eddie and Lin Potter are presenting an impractically large cheque (in dimensions, if not amount) to the Museum’s then Deputy Director Kristen Lippincott, and Polly Larner, Head of the Friends of the NMM. (At that time the Flamsteed was part of the Museum’s Friends organisation). The Flamsteed enjoyed a blessing-in-disguise: up to then we had met in one of the rooms in the ROG South Building and we were limited to a membership of 50 because of lack of space. When the re-development began we had to move our meetings down the hill to the NMM’s Lecture Theatre. The extra space enabled us to vastly increase our membership!
Sharing his knowledge
Eddie was passionate about the Observatory and especially its history. When I first met him in 2002 he was organising the team of volunteer tour guides, sorting out duty rotas, etc, so we could offer a public tour every weekday (the weekends were too busy and the galleries too crowded).
Eddie organised a visit for Flamsteed members to the church where the first Astronomer Royal, the Rev. John Flamsteed, had been the rector and where he’s buried. The church is in Burstow, Surrey, now so close to the end of the runway at Gatwick that if you reached up you could touch the planes. Flamsteed would have been amazed, if not very pleased!
A bit of a departure: Eddie and I were lucky enough to be invited to help at the Royal Society summer exhibition in 2006, working to explain things to visitors in an exhibit called ‘The Excitement of Time’. It was a fabulous collection of unique vintage clocks including one of John Harrison’s first domestic clocks (regulators). The exhibit was organised by Sir Arnold Wolfendale (the previous Astronomer Royal), and Dr John C Taylor, a wealthy inventor who actually owned the clocks on display.
Above all, Eddie loved to share his knowledge. He was especially interested in technology and its history. He would carefully research new subjects, usually with some connection to astronomy or time measurement, and write talks to present to Flamsteed members. He was most interested in optics, which had been his career focus, I think, but he would tackle anything. His talks were always meticulously researched and detailed. He liked to be very well prepared and would write his talks out in full and then present them verbatim.
Eddie thoroughly enjoyed attending all kinds of Flamsteed meetings and events and chatting to everyone. The only thing he didn’t do was to “stand in muddy fields at midnight”: apart from solar viewing, he was mostly an armchair astronomer. After he and his wife Janice moved to Kingston-upon-Thames he would happily make the trek across to Greenwich to come to events.
The Society owes Eddie a great debt of gratitude. It was his energy, with Jane Bendall, that got the Flamsteed up and running in 1999. He gave the Society stature and gravitas – he refused to allow what he called “the club in the scout hut”. He built an excellent relationship with the Museum and ROG authorities and he created a sound structure on which to build the Flamsteed.
We will miss him terribly.
The Royal Observatory Greenwich was Eddie’s passion. If you would like to make a donation in his honour to help support the work of the ROG, please visit the commemorative giving page.
Photo credits: numbering from the top, Brian Pearson (1); Mike Dryland (2), (4), (5); Michael Bradbury (3)
Some of Eddie’s talks were reported on the website of the Society www.flamsteed.info. Here are some links –
“Measuring time by astronomy…” May 18, 2019 http://www.flamsteed.org.uk/2019/05/measuring-time-by-astronomy-or-physics-history-of-astronomy-talk-23rd-april-2019/
“The Hubble Space Telescope…” March 28, 2017 http://www.flamsteed.org.uk/2017/04/history-of-astronomy-group-meeting-28th-march-2017/
“The development of coordinate systems for measuring star positions” Apr 29, 2014 http://www.flamsteed.org.uk/2014/04/tim-newling-eddie-yeadon-history-of-astronomy-group-meeting/
“John Dolland and the achromatic lens” Jan 27, 2015 http://www.flamsteed.org.uk/event/history-of-astronomy-group-meeting-9/
“10 Glorious Years” Oct 16, 2009 – Eddie and Jane Bendall (co-founder of FAS) gave a presentation to mark the 10th anniversary of the Society http://www.flamsteed.org/fas10thpres.htm
There are also some reports by Eddie on the website:
“The Bureau des Longitudes, Paris” http://www.flamsteed.org/fasburlong.htm
“When is a planet not a planet” http://www.flamsteed.org/faspluto.htm
“Relative Values – two significant anniversaries in 2005” http://www.flamsteed.org/fasrelvals.htm
“Charles Parsons and Turbinia” http://www.flamsteed.org/fasturbinia.htm
“The Transit of Venus” http://www.flamsteed.org/fashven.htm